Secret Friends

Anyone who has fed birds for any length of time knows that if you don’t clean up regularly, you can draw unwanted visitors to the debris that falls under the feeders.    Rats.

I used to hate rats.  My notions of rats included words like dirty, diseased, disgusting. We lived in a little rental house when our kids were small where rats chewed a hole behind the kitchen sink and had a nest under our dishwasher.  If I walked out of the kitchen for a few minutes and came back quietly, I could hear them poking around the paper trash bag under the sink.  Sometimes in the morning, the fuzzy kitchen rug near the sink was pulled askew.  Later, when we figured out what was going on, we found pieces of that fuzzy rug in their nest under the dishwasher.

What happened next is what had to happen, I suppose, but I’m not proud of it.  We promptly put an end to those rats by pretty much standard rat-killing methods.  I don’t even like to remember it.  I justify it in my head to this day by rationalizing that we had small kids and needed to get rid of the problem.

The experience above was not related to bird-feeding but to a neighbor across the street that I think today would probably be considered a hoarder although I have had issues over the years with bird-feeder related rats and haven’t always been so kind toward them.  The last few years I decided the best approach is to try to put out a minimal amount of food, no more than can be consumed that day and to be diligent about clean up.

So when my daughter announced almost two years ago that she wanted to keep rats as pets, I resisted.  Big time.  I was adamant that I was not going to live with rats and that she could just wait until she had her own place someday and then she could do what she wanted.   She worked me for weeks until I was pretty much worn down.

I have been living with two little secret rat friends for almost two years.  I don’t tell most people about them because of the stigma that the word RAT carries. And I love them dearly.  They are curious, sociable, gentle and sweet.  They want to be with us and if I come within eye-shot of their cage, they jump out of their hammock and cling to the door hoping to be taken out. This is a huge step-up from the hamsters we had during our kids childhoods. We had plenty of hamsters. They put up with us and being handled but they were indifferent towards us at best. The rats like us and like to spend time with us.

Jill is moving out this weekend to her own apartment and taking these little guys with her.  I will surely miss them and my opinion of rats over the last two years has evolved because of them. These little guys are really the driving force behind me keeping the area around our feeders clean and not putting out too much food. I don’t want to have to be faced with making a choice about having to “control” outside rat populations in my yard.

Striper and Shy Guy



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4 Responses to Secret Friends

  1. Jen says:

    Awww your secret friends are adorable! Their ears are their best feature, I would have to say….

  2. Oh my gosh, that last photo is unquestionably ADORABLE! Sadly, I feel the same as you and don’t want to have to take extreme measures around the feeding stations. Thats why they make trays and no-waste bird seed, thank goodness! Thanks for sharing the other side of rats.

  3. Ingrid says:

    Shelly, I share your feelings about rats and I’ve concluded, after many years, that I couldn’t care less about the stigma. I volunteer as a wildlife rehabilitator and am even in a clear minority there, this is among animal-caring volunteers. :)

    My first experience with a domestic rat occurred in college when my biology-major boyfriend “rescued” a lab rat and made him our pet. Our rat was so smart, so dear, so engaging. I adored her. I regret now, knowing what I know, that I didn’t provide her more social stimulation in the form of another rescued rat. I made the acquaintance of a domestic rat rescuer in the Bay Area who devotes her time to re-homing these abandoned pets. She further fleshed out my education on rats so now my respect is unfaltering.

    As far as bird feeders, my understanding is that although you’ll find rats if there is food left out, that trash and compost bins are much bigger draws. I did some research and it appears that bird feeders, especially tray feeders, do not contribute significantly to rat populations. If someone knows better, I’d be appreciate the info.

  4. roger burton says:

    shelly, do you remember those cute little cockroaches in alhambra?

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